By Harley Nefe
What started as an idea two years ago, App Builds a Home (ABAH) is an Appalachian State University campus-wide partnership with Watauga County Habitat for Humanity to build safe and affordable homes for local partner families. Students, faculty, staff and alumni of App State work together to design, fund and build the homes.
Habitat for Humanity is a nonprofit housing organization that partners with communities all over the world to help build and improve affordable homes. Watauga County Habitat for Humanity’s vision is “a world where everyone has a decent place to live,” according to its website.
Eligible habitat partners “might be dealing with poorly built, unhealthy, damaged, or inadequate housing,” have unaffordable rent or mortgage, or be living in a home that is inaccessible for people with disabilities, according to the Watauga County Habitat for Humanity website.
They currently build one house per year due to high budgeting costs.
ABAH allows for there to be an additional house built each year.
The difference between a regular home build and an ABAH project is that the projects are assisted by App State through various clubs and organizations coming together.
App State fundraises for at least half of the cost of the home and provides volunteers for the projects. Watauga County Habitat for Humanity supervises the project to make sure everything is completed correctly, but App State heavily supports the project.
Last year, ABAH completed its first house for the Barker family, which includes David and Amy Barker and their two children, Nathan and Kali. Their completed house is located in the Habitat for Humanity GreenWood subdivision off of N.C. Highway 194 beside Green Valley School. The Barker family’s home is the sixth home built in the subdivision.
This year, ABAH is working on building its second home for App State employee Sheila Potter.
Potter is a staff member at App State who works in the advising building D. D. Dougherty as a housekeeper. She has been working at App State since 2016. Prior to that she worked at Hospitality Mints and Mabel Elementary School. Potter is one of three daughters born to Boyd and Jewel Potter. She is a descendant of the original Potter family for which Pottertown, North Carolina, is named. Her new Habitat home will be located in Pottertown on property that has been in her immediate family for over 100 years. She currently lives with her mom who owns the land right next to where her house will be located.
“It means the world to me to build on my own land,” Potter said. “I can still be close to my mom, but the privacy and independence of having my own home is such a blessing.”
Potter said she is most excited about having her own bathroom and having a place for her grandson to come spend the night.
“We’re building the Appalachian family,” said Mackenzie Millett, who is a student co-director of ABAH. “It’s a nice initiative that we are doing this year.”
Kayla McDougle, who is also a student co-director of ABAH, said Potter has already been really great to get to know and to work with.
“She’s so excited to be a part of this process, which I think just makes it so much better for all of us too, to get to really work with somebody who is really appreciative and really enjoying the process,” McDougle said. “She’s excited to have her grandson over at her house once it’s all put together, so it’s really exciting and this is personally what I love most about Habitat is you get these really interesting relationships that are just so unique to Habitat and their organization, like getting to work with the people that you are actually helping. So, just seeing her excitement and hearing about all of the things that she is already wanting to do and planning to do, it just warms my heart. It’s the best.”
The decision to do the second house was made prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We actually had our first meeting the week or two before spring break,” Millett said. “Right before everything kind of blew up, we had it all together.”
This year, ABAH created a new Advisory Board to expand how many people are working on the project. At the first Advisory Board meeting, there were around 20 people and then COVID-19 struck.
“The biggest change with all the Covid stuff is mostly around the volunteers,” McDougle said. “We had no idea what the student situation was going to be like, and obviously that was what we kind of relied on for much of last year.”
Because Potter is an App State staff member, ABAH partnered with App State’s Staff Senate, who will provide the majority of the volunteers for the project.
“When we were making all of these decisions, we really had no idea if students were going to be on campus or how long they would be on campus, so we contacted Staff Senate, and they were all about it,” Millett said. “So, we are super excited about that partnership for this year.”
October has been ABAH’s kick-off month for the Potter home. Recently, ABAH filmed and shared a groundbreaking video that introduces Potter and talks about the new home. The video also includes a ceremonial shoveling of the dirt at the build site. The video can be found here:
“It’s just hard right now to get student engagement, so we’re hoping through the groundbreaking video that we’ll get that student engagement that we are missing right now,” Millett said.
Since the groundbreaking build, construction is scheduled to begin in November. There is a local construction crew doing all of the framing due to ABAH not being able to get groups of volunteers out there because of COVID-19. The framing for the house is scheduled to be finished by the end of the year, and then ABAH plans to start having volunteer crews in January to continue working on the house.
Initially, ABAH planned on hosting a Walls-Up Competition in coordination with Staff Senate during Homecoming. This event was going to involve staff members gathering in teams of 4-5 people to help build the walls to the Potter home using App State’s Integrative Design Experience Laboratory (IDEXlab). The teams were going to compete to build the most aesthetically pleasing and sturdy wall.
McDougle added that ABAH was looking to have an event that’s really noticeable and tangible for people to see that things are happening, walls are being built and the house is coming together.
“We were looking for that opportunity somewhere that we could still get that visible representation of the project coming together,” McDougle said.
However, ABAH decided to postpone the Walls-Up Competition out of an abundance of caution due to the spike in COVID-19 cases the university had a few weeks ago.
“We hope to hold a similar competition in the spring,” Millett said. “Of course, it won’t be building walls, but maybe painting walls or something along those lines.”
Another big part of ABAH is fundraising for the builds.
“We’ve had to rethink our fundraising a little bit because a lot of our fundraising and just general engagement last time was face-to-face and it was events that clubs had on campus,” said Misty Mayfield, who is the faculty coordinator for ABAH. “It was all of this face-to-face engagement and fundraising and well, that’s just not going to happen this time.”
One event ABAH realized it could do virtually is its letter writing campaign, where students send letters to their family and friends through snail mail, emails or texts that ask for donations. A campus-wide letter writing campaign is being planned for November and December.
“We are hanging a lot on that since we can’t do events, we’re hoping that people will really buy in and be willing to send letters because it is a pretty easy thing for the individual to do and relying on the generosity of their networks, it takes a village,” Mayfield said.
ABAH’s fundraising goal for the Potter home is $40,000, which they want to raise by May.
“That’s our goal to have that done so we can start the new academic year with a new home hopefully and another fundraising goal,” Millett said.
The fundraising goal of $40,000 is a smaller amount than usual because the Potter home has been planned to be a one-story home, whereas most of the houses Habitat for Humanity builds are two stories. The home is also a simpler build because Potter already has her own land.
“Now with all of the Covid stuff, building prices have gone up by 20%, so that’s changed a little bit, but given our success with fundraising last year and also the limits on all of our fundraising we’re sticking with $40,000, but I’m fairly confident that we will still be able to go past that like we did last year,” McDougle said.
$40,000 would have been half of the cost of the Potter home before COVID-19, but with the increase of construction costs and material costs, it has gone up. However, Watauga County Habitat for Humanity decided to stick with the original agreement and will match the rest of the costs for the house.
Millett said ABAH has currently fundraised over $14,000 from donations that they received and from Watauga County Habitat for Humanity’s 6th Annual Big Kahuna Campaign.
This is an event that takes place in the spring, and it’s a fundraising competition where the team or individual who raises the most money is crowned the ‘Big Kahuna.’
This past year was the first year that they had a team of students from App State participate.
The Lambda Chi Alpha group, including team members Anderson Noonan, Tristin Newsome, Mason Zlotnick and Calvin Pissocra, completed their fundraising before spring break and led the teams in fundraising for several weeks. Funds raised by this team, which totaled $4,744, supported ABAH.
“It’s such a hard thing for us because last year starting up this project, we relied on campus recognition and putting up posters, advertising on the TVs, going face-to-face to dozens of clubs and talking to them, and we’re trying to convert that as much as possible, but it’s a challenge for us to figure out how to maintain that recognition on campus when half of the students aren’t even on campus,” McDougle said.
However, despite the challenges associated with COVID-19, ABAH remains hopeful.
“I believe this year will be just as, if not more successful than this past year,” Millett said. “We have a foundation to begin with this year that we didn’t have at the beginning of last year. We have definitely learned a lot, from what fundraisers don’t work to what events just help us make meaningful connections with people in the community.”
To learn more about ABAH and how to get involved and support the Potter home, visit ABAH’s website at https://appbuildsahome.appstate.edu/.